After months of preparation, Rachel’s Table and Jewish Family Service have begun their new kosher food distribution program, “ESSEN-tials: A Kosher Food Initiative of Rachel’s Table and JFS.”
“We know there are people who observe the laws of Kashrut who are struggling,” said Shira Atik, special projects manager at Rachel’s Table, “and they cannot rely on food pantries to meet their needs. ‘ESSEN-tials’ is a first step in addressing this issue.”
This week, individuals and families who are facing challenges and who observe the Jewish dietary laws began receiving a package of kosher food. This will continue every other month.
“We heard from Jewish Family Service and rabbis that there was a need for this,” said Debbie Rubenstein, director of Rachel’s Table, the hunger prevention program of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “Every other month we are going to supply some sort of kosher food for families who need it, through JFS. JFS will be the distributor, we are gong to raise the money and purchase the food.”
The content of the food packages will vary, but may include protein, milk and non-perishable items. The first supply of food included kosher chicken, some fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, tuna fish – “a combination of perishable and non-perishable food items,” Rubenstein said. The amount of food will depend upon the size of the family.
This new program fits in well with the services Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts already provides in the Jewish community.
“We have helped a lot of Jewish families through our Urgent Economic Response program,” said Elaine Shepard, marketing and communications coordinator at JFS. “Because we already have a procedure to deal with people on a confidential basis because of all of our other programs that we administer, it is easy for us to have another program where we can keep people’s information on a confidential basis.”
Those interested in enrolling in the program can call Shepard, or fill out a special form created by Rachel’s Table and JFS. The forms can be found at Rachel’s Table or in the literature rack outside the JFS office at the Springfield JCC. Local rabbis also have the forms and can guide any congregants in enrolling in the program.
The amount and type of kosher food included in the deliveries will depend on funding. “Shira and I were shopping for this on Friday and bumped into someone [from the local Jewish community] who said, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there was a need for this.’ I said, ‘Yes, unfortunately, there is,” Rubenstein said. “She asked if there was a way she could contribute, and I said, ‘Yes, if you send a check saying at the bottom that it is for the kosher food initiative, then we will put it directly to food purchase.”
“We are just happy that we are able to serve this need, Rubenstein added, “because people who keep kosher can go to food pantries, but there is a very limited amount of stuff they can get there. We hope we can supplement with more food…but this is just the beginning.”
The program’s next distribution will be just before the High Holidays in September.
“Right now it is every other month,” Rubenstien said. “If we get an influx of a lot of money we can increase it to every month, but at this point we don’t have the funds.”
Anyone interested in participating in ESSEN-tials: The Kosher Food Initiative of Rachel’s Table and JFS or in making a referral for the program, can contact Elaine Shepard, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at JFS, at (413) 455-1936 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Those interested in helping to fund the program or donate food should contact Shira Atik at (413) 733-0084 or email@example.com. All inquiries are strictly confidential.
Rachel’s Table, a project of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts and WWLP-TV22, has been working since 1992 to alleviate hunger and reduce food waste.